Dear Berea Alumni and Friends,
In January, I asked, “What does it mean to be radical?” Who could have known that by March our world would be radically different? Pandemic, social-distancing, quarantine, COVID-19—these terms meant nothing to me when I wrote my last letter. Yet these now everyday terms have changed our entire way of life. I am typing this letter while working remotely. As a mother of three, I’m not only editing a magazine from home, I’m editing school work, directing time-management tactics, strategizing ways to divert pent-up energy now that sports are cancelled and gymnasiums are closed, and grasping for ways to keep the pantry stocked with a teenager and two pre-teens. This is all done while participating in video conference calls, digital editing sessions and brainstorming with a team I can’t see face to face each day.
On March 10, Berea College President Lyle Roelofs announced the College would cease on-campus instruction three days later. As a preemptive measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school again acted from a radically different perspective amid worldwide uncertainty. The announcement shined a spotlight on our small college as many thought the decision was an overreaction. Some praised our boldness and commitment to the safety of our campus community. It was a decision that was not made lightly. The barrage of questions and judgments came immediately. Our administration met each concern head on—advocating for students whose lives felt uprooted and uncertain. As the majority of our 1,600+ students were sent home to complete their semester, the hardships imposed were foreseen. Students without reliable internet access were assisted with mobile hot spots. Students without resources to travel home were given financial support. Students without a proper home to return to were provided respite on campus. And all students, whether on campus or not, continued to receive payments from the work program.
Berea once again stood in the tension—being the voice speaking clearly in the midst of chaos, the eyes seeking justice amid inequity and the heart pursuing love in surmounting fear. This is a radically different institution, living out eight Great Commitments that stem from guiding principles inherent since our founding. And as we continue to walk through this pandemic, we also invite you (in your increased free time) to engage with the stories in this publication and to reflect on how Berea’s commitments to educating and serving the whole student continue—even when most are not on campus. You’ll find articles about our always adapting work program, as well as new understandings of gender equity and creating balanced, intuitive graduates through our liberal arts approach.
None of us knows exactly what the future holds, but what we do know is Berea will continue to make service to our students and community its top priority, even if it seemingly goes against the grain. It’s what we’ve done since 1855.
Abbie Tanyhill Darst ’03